Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Fruit and Gifts of the Spirit -- Reflections

The lectionary reading from the Letters for the 6th Sunday after Pentecost is Galatians 5:1, 13-25, a passage that includes Paul's discussion of the fruit of the Spirit.  I'd like to share an excerpt from my newly published book Unfettered Spirit: Spiritual Gifts for the New Great Awakening, in which I take up the importance of this fruit to the Spirit-filled life. 


I’ve already mentioned the fruit of the Spirit, and we return to them now. Jesus says of humanity, “you will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles?” (Mt. 7:16). The Christian community, if it’s to be salt and light, will be a community that gives evidence of its relationship with God through the fruit it bears. Paul’s list of the nine “fruits of the Spirit” stands as a marker of the church’s spiritual health. On this basis, Phil Kenneson believes that the church is in fact seriously ill. In spite of apparent numerical growth, at least within the Evangelical community, the church today is “simply cultivating at the center of its life the seeds that the dominant culture has sown in its midst.” The nine “fruits” that serve as markers of spiritual health are “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23). Each of these markers of spiritual health undergird human relationships, they enable a person to put the needs and concerns of the other in a position of priority. While the fruit is a permanent expression of the Spirit’s presence, spiritual gifts are temporary expressions designed for ministry within the body and in the world at large (1 Cor. 13:8).

If the fruit of the Spirit define Christian character, then love is the foundation of Christian life and experience (Eph. 4:17-19, Gal. 5:22-23). It defines the Christian faith precisely because God is love (1 Jn. 4:7-8). Ontologically, we could define love, in the words of Paul Tillich, not as emotion but as “the drive towards the unity of the separated.” Love (agape) seeks the best for the other, even when the intention of the other is evil. Again, I turn to Thomas Oord for help in providing a definition – this time, of agape.
I define agape as acting intentionally, in response to God and others, to promote overall well-being in response to that which produces ill-being.
Oord calls agape as “in spite of love.” Thus, it becomes the foundation of the ministry of reconciliation to which we have been called. This principle finds its connection to human life in the person of Jesus, in whom God reconciles all things to himself and makes all things new (2 Cor. 5:16-21, Eph. 2:11-22). 

 [Unfettered Spirit, pp.  88-89]

Saturday, June 29, 2013

So Much Better -- A Review

SO MUCH BETTER: How Thousands of Pastors Help Each Other Thrive (TCP The Columbia Partnership Leadership Series). Penny Long Marler, D. Bruce Roberts, Janet Maykus, James Bowers, Larry Dill, Brenda K. Harewood, Richard Hester, Sheila Kirton-Robbins, Marianne LaBarre, Lis Van Harten, Keilli Walker-Jones, Sustaining Pastoral Excellence Peer Learning Project. St. Louis:  Chalice Press, 2013.  Xix + 210 pages.

            Ministry can be, and often is, a lonely profession.  It is a rather unique profession, especially if one is engaged in parish ministry – especially for those who pastor small congregations with few or even no staff members.  Not only do many clergy live busy lives, but they often find themselves rather isolated.  Yes, there are parishioners with whom to engage, and perhaps a few clergy outside the congregation with which one is friendly, but finding the opportunity to truly engage with others going through the same kinds of things isn’t always easy.  Clergy can also find themselves stuck in spiritual and intellectual ruts, the kind that continuing education can help rectify, but which many clergy fail to take advantage of – often because their congregations don’t realize the value of such events. 

Is there a solution to this problem facing so many clergy, many of whom are leaving the profession by the droves?  Could a peer learning experience revitalize clergy so that they are better positioned to help revitalize congregations?  There are a number of answers to the question, but the answer offered by So Much Better focuses on peer learning experiences.  The contributors to this book published by Chalice Press are affiliated in some manner with the Peer Learning Project of the Lilly-funded Sustaining Pastoral Excellence (SPE) program. 

Much of the book is comprised of case studies from a variety of projects, some denominationally sponsored, some sponsored by seminaries, and others by clergy support networks.  What we learn is that we're all different, and not every model works for everyone. For some a highly structured program is beneficial, and for others something less structured is helpful.  Some use paid facilitators, others don’t.  Some travel, others don’t.  Some have fairly structured educational aspects, others don’t.  Money is always helpful, but it’s not the only determinant of success.  All of the projects discussed in the book have strong relational components.  This is learning among peers gathered in small groups who share life together over a period of time.  The educational foundation of the projects can be described in terms of andragogy rather than pedagogy.  The former is adult learning, in contrast to the teaching of children.  For children the focus is on the “what” of learning, but with adults it is the “why” that is just as important.  For adults, motivation is higher and the payoff greater, when they have a say in what they’re learning and the way they learn.  This is especially true for clergy.
Whatever the nature of the project, the outcomes are highly positive.    Even as clergy experience renewal and support, their congregations tend to blossom as well.  Studies show that clergy who participate in peer learning become better pastors.  These studies also show that this involvement in such groups makes for better congregations.  So, what is the best way to do this?  The answer is that no one way works for everyone or for every faith community.  Success depends on commitment, trust, an agreed upon purpose.  The studies of peer groups show that women and men are attracted to different styles of learning experiences.  Early career clergy may need something different from those who have been serving for many years.  Some prefer denominationally focused groups and others ecumenical ones.  Men seem to prefer scripture study and women spiritual practices. 

So what is the best way to do this?  The authors of the book write:
The best pastoral peer learning models combine elements that at first blush seem opposed to each other.  They are discipline and freedom the familiar and the strange, and the inside and the outside of group life.  Each of these elements requires careful attention in the design and development of a peer group.  The built-intension created in their negotiation is necessary for learning that is dynamic, shared, and simulating but also safe. (p. 13).
In the course of seven chapters we’re introduced to a variety of approaches, all of which have some connection to the Sustaining Pastoral Excellence program.  Many of them received funding from Lilly, so you might call this a report out of how Lilly’s money benefited clergy and their churches.  In each chapter the reader is presented with a case study of a peer learning group.  This is followed by a history of the group and a description of its purpose, along with details concerning recruitment and structure, along with impact on participants, families, and congregations. 

To take but one of the chapters, chapter 2 describes the creation of a Holy Friendship group through the College of Pastoral Leaders.  The participants were all women and joined a group to qualify for a grant from the College of Pastoral Leaders at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary.  This particular group was composed of Presbyterian clergy, who sought to focus on rest, travel, and art.  This particular model had accountability to the program, but it wasn’t facilitated from outside the group.  On the other hand, chapter 3 describes an effort sponsored by the Church of God (Cleveland, TN), with the goal of creating pastoral covenant groups.  In forming these groups denominational leaders had in mind the need for reform within their church and address the discovery that Church of God pastors were experiencing alienation from the denomination and from their families.  The expectation was these groups would help revitalize the denomination.  Healthy pastors were needed if the church was to be healthy.  In forming these groups, it was decided to make use of facilitators to “cultivate open, respectful, and highly participative dialogue among its members” (p. 70).     

Although these learning experiences can take a variety of forms, all of these models assume a great deal of relational commitment to each other.  Success requires that the group is committed to each other’s growth and welfare.  They require a willingness to make participation in these groups a priority, and invite congregations to take up the priority as well. 

If you’re clergy you would be well served to read the book and consider if a peer learning experience is in your future.  Congregational leaders, do you want healthy clergy to help lead you in difficult times?  Making provision for participation will be to your benefit.  The point isn’t getting information to bring back to the church – it’s spiritual, emotional, physical health that emerges from these experiences.  Yes, learning takes place, but it’s multi-dimensional. 

As I read the book I found some projects that are attractive to me and some that aren’t.  I like a study component and good conversation.  I’m less interested in being told what to do and how to do it by denominational officials – as a Disciple I don’t get too many of those directives.  At the same time, I’ve never experienced the level of personal engagement as described in most of these models.  I’m part of clergy groups that have some of the components described here, but not enough of them to qualify as peer-learning experiences. 

Because I’m affiliated with an organization that has as part of its purpose the provision of and encouragement of peer learning experiences, I was disappointed that the Academy of Parish Clergy isn’t among the organizations mentioned.  Such groups are part of the founding identity, but most of us aren’t engaged in groups of this depth.  So, to fellow members of the Academy, we would be wise to study this book carefully.  We could be, should be, another vehicle for clergy to pursue this calling (and I should note that the APC got its start with seed money from Lilly. 

I believe this is a most useful book for clergy.  If nothing else, it will push us to consider carefully the need for continuing education and the value that is found in doing it in small peer groups.  George Bullard of the Columbia Partnership and Chalice Press are to be commended for bringing this book to print.  As for fellow APC members, let’s figure out how we too can be involved.  There are far too many clergy needing a safe and structured environment to pursue pastoral excellence. But there are thousands who have discovered a better way -- let us attend to their stories!

Friday, June 28, 2013

Wilderness, Monasteries, and Moral Spaces -- Sightings (Kristel Clayville)

The biblical image of the Garden of Eden seems to offer a vision of humanity living in perfect harmony with the rest of Creation.  Now that we live outside that sanctuary, harmony is less apparent.  Living as we do in an age when the human footprint on Creation is increasingly heavy, we must face questions about how to balance our presence the rest of the environment.  This is especially true due to the impact of climate change.   In this essay by Kristel Clayville, a PhD candidate at the University of Chicago Divinity School, raises important questions about our place in the environment -- in relation to the declining wolf population at Isle Royale National Park in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.  I invite you to read and respond.


Wilderness, Monasteries, and Moral Spaces
by Kristel Clayville
Thursday |  June 27 2013
In a recent article in the New York Times, “Predator and Prey, a Delicate Dance,” John Vucetich, Michael Nelson, and Rolf Peterson describe a scenario that challenges the meanings we attach to the word, wilderness. They write of Isle Royale National Park in Lake Superior where the balance between wolves, moose, and vegetation have become drastically out of kilter because of the genetic isolation of the wolf population. “New” wolves cannot reach this area because, as a result of warmer temperatures, ice bridges between the island and the mainland form less often. Without a robust number of wolves to prey on moose, the ecosystem of the island has fallen apart.

The NYT authors outline three courses of action that the National Park Service could take: 1) genetic rescue of the wolf population by bringing new wolves to the island, 2) reintroduction of wolves to the island should they go extinct, and 3) letting nature run its course by doing nothing.

While the authors support genetic rescue, the National Park Service may be limited legally to the third option due to the definition of wilderness enshrined in the Wilderness Act of 1964: “[wilderness is] an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”

The problem, the NYT authors point out, is that human-induced climate change allows for our (human) influence without our presence. They suggest that the concept of wilderness itself is endangered since there are no natural areas untouched by us in the 21st century. In the authors’ view, the legal definition of wilderness is outdated and relies on a stark contrast between humans and nature that no longer holds.

But did it ever hold? Were humans and nature ever so distinct that the definition of wilderness in the Wilderness Act makes sense?

In the view of J. Baird Callicott, an environmental philosopher and ethicist, the concept of wilderness relies on a false distinction between humans and nature. Callicott holds that humans are, and have always been, part of nature, so preserving so-called “wilderness” areas is logically impossible and misguided.

Callicott also highlights the religious background on which the concept of wilderness is based: “It seems to me that sanctuaries are akin to monasticism in the dark ages. The world was so wicked it was better to have islands of decency than none at all.” By drawing a parallel between nature sanctuaries and monasteries, he concludes that wilderness, like monasteries, places a premium on ethical purity and retreat from the world. American ideas about wilderness are not based on science, Callicott maintains, but rather on unquestioned religious ideals about the necessity for purity, and the belief that human beings are impure.

In contrast to Callicott, Holmes Rolston, III, an environmental ethicist, finds that, “A scientifically managed wilderness is conceptually as impossible as wildlife at the zoo.”

For Rolston, cultural, or human-specific processes only derail evolutionary processes, so if we come to the genetic rescue of the wolves, we interfere with nature, which we ought not to do. Rolston affirms that while humans are biological, human culture is no longer part of the evolutionary process.  As a result, when we interact with nature, we overlay the ideas, concepts, and perspectives produced by culture (which are outside of biological evolution) onto the natural world (which remains subject to biological evolution).

Rolston also finds values at work in the wild that are distinct from our human values. For example, in the wilderness, values like the predator-prey relationship exist, a relationship absent from human culture. Values unique to the wilderness, Rolston insists, must be preserved as part of the evolutionary process.

Rolston and Callicott agree that wilderness is a space with moral significance even if the wilderness’ values are often at odds with our cultural values. Rolston, however, takes the dimension of time into account by noting that evolutionary processes are slow. He cautions that we will need patience and the willingness to endure the discomforts of change if we decide to trust the potential of natural processes to help biological creatures adapt, over time, to changing conditions.

Are we preserving the wilderness, or the concept of wilderness, out of a sense of nostalgia? Is this urge a product of the religious imagination that has been incorporated into American law? Should we assume responsibility for the wolves’ situation and act quickly on our scientific understandings? To what extent should the responsibility we bear for changing nature push us to redefine the concept of wilderness?

Hopefully, these are a few of the questions that the National Parks Service will ponder when they meet in the Fall of 2013 to decide the fate of the wolves of Isle Royale National Park.


Vucetich, John, Michael Nelson, and Rolf Peterson. “Predator and Prey, a Delicate Dance. The New York Times, May 9, 2013.

Callicott, J.B. “The Wilderness Idea Revisited: The Sustain- able Development Alternative.” The Environmental Professional 13 (1991): 235-247.

Rolston, Holmes, III. "The Wilderness Idea Reaffirmed." The Environmental Professional 13 (1991): 370-377.

Author, Kristel Clayville, is a Ph.D. Candidate in Religious Ethics at the University of Chicago Divinity School. She works on the intersection of hermeneutics and ethics with a particular interest in environmental ethics.

Editor, Myriam Renaud, is a Ph.D. Candidate in Theology at the University of Chicago Divinity School. She is a 2012-13 Junior Fellow in the Martin Marty Center.


Thursday, June 27, 2013

Must We Rethink Marriage after the End of DOMA?

                Yesterday was a momentous one for the United States.  It took another important step toward full recognition of gay marriage.  In striking down the Defense of Marriage Act, the Supreme Court recognized what a majority of Americans recognize – the train has left the station.  Thirteen states, including two of the three most populous states in the Union have or will have in short order provided for marriage equality.  The thirteen states that allow gay marriage, including California, represent about 25% of the nation’s population.  I expect other states including one I grew up in (Oregon) and the one in which I currently live (Michigan), will join this movement in short order.  I’ve commented already on some of the implications in an earlier post – immediately following the announcements --

It will take time for this to spread across the country, but even as we would think it inappropriate to ban interracial marriage today in time gay marriage will become commonplace.  Not all will agree, and religious organizations like churches, mosques, synagogues, and Temples will not and should not be required to bless what they deem inappropriate.    

For many co-religionists, yesterday was a day of defeat.  Many Christians feel like they’ve lost their moral edge; that the nation no longer affirms their values.  I understand their feelings, because I once shared them.  My own reading of Scripture and my own sense of God’s intention for human relationships was defined by the marriage of a man and a woman.  Not only did I take this from Scripture, but it seemed to be the way of nature – the way things fit. 

Over time, due to my encounters with LGBT people, including close family members, I’ve had to rethink my understanding of the nature of human relationships.  I’ve come to embrace same-gender marriages, because I’ve come understand that we’re not all wired the same.  Our sexual identities are spread across a continuum.  Some of us are firmly attracted to members of the opposite gender.  Others to the same gender and some are attracted to both.  And I might add; some folks may be asexual.  That is, no sexual attraction to men or women.  This diversity of experience poses dilemmas for us, because we tend to organize society around specific norms.  Since opposite-gender attraction fits the majority of the world’s population, we’ve assumed that to be the norm.  It may be the “norm,” but does that make the one who doesn’t fit this norm abnormal?  Yes, this is a complicated issue.

 So in the light of the two Supreme Court decisions of June 26, 2013, what should we do with marriage?  I expect many will hold to “traditional” definitions, and that is their right.  Others of us have already begun to rethink the nature of marriage, and this decision only gives us further impetus to pursue new understandings of marriage.

Since I’m quite open about my support of gay marriage, I have to discern what this means for marriage in general.  If our Western society has presumed male-female marriage, and if we turn to the biblical story for support – including Genesis 2 – what about same-gender marriage?  I will admit there are fewer biblical texts to be used in such weddings.  I just did a wedding this past Saturday.  I appealed Genesis 2, “bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh” as foundational to the relationship.  That passage doesn’t quite have the same message in the context of same-gender marriage, and yet it does.

Genesis 2 speaks of relationships – the need for intimacy – physical, spiritual, emotional.  God saw that the man was lonely and ended creating the woman.  But, what if in some cases God has allowed that loneliness to be filled differently.  Note that in this story none of the animals filled the need – it was the one who shared bone and flesh who filled the need.  I this need for intimacy can be fulfilled outside of marriage – in deep non-sexualized friendships.  But for many of us, there is a need for a deeper intimacy that the sexual bond fulfills.       

So how do we re-envision marriage in a way that makes sense of the need of some for same-gender intimacy?   In short, my answer is really the same as is true for the marriage of between women and men.  Marriage is a covenant relationship.  It is a commitment before God to leave behind all other relationships and cleave to the other.  I realize that marriage is said to be going out of style.  No longer does one have to get married to have sex – or at least to do so respectably.  So why get married, especially when so many marriages end in divorce?  Let’s just see where this goes. 

Cheryl and I will celebrate thirty years of marriage in the next two weeks.  It’s been good, but not always easy.  She’s my closest friend and my confidant, but we don’t always agree and we can get frustrated with each other.  Why have we stayed together through thick and thin?  Is it the paper we received from the state or the benefits we receive from the government?  No, it’s the covenant we made with each other, and with God, to have and to hold, from this day forward -- in sickness and heath, in poverty and in prosperity -- till death do us part.  I believe that this same covenant relationship that Cheryl and I have shared can be the foundation for committed, sexually exclusive same gender marriages. 

Marriage isn’t about the paper – it’s about the commitment to remain true to the other no matter what.  I'm always in awe of those persons who've been married sixty and even seventy years.  I know they've faced difficult times.  They may have stopped liking each other on occasion, but they've stayed on that path together for so long they're almost intertwined with one another.  And you know after sixty years, I doubt it's all about the sex.  I think it's about the relationship.  What is true for folks like them, certainly can be true for those who share the same gender.  
Yes, we’ll have to have some conversations about what all this means going forward, because as they say “the train has left the station.”  We’ll not be going back to what was.     

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Marriage Equality Moves Forward

This morning, even as I was bemoaning the Voting Rights Act decision of the day before, the Supreme Court issued two 5-4 rulings that will advance Marriage Equality in the United States.  First of all, the Justices declared the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) to be unconstitutional.  Thus, at the bare minimum, as implemented by the Federal Government, Same-gender couples who were married in states that allow same-gender marriage should get all the benefits allowed to hetero-sexual couples.  Just in terms of tax benefits this is huge.  More about this in a moment.

The second ruling is interesting.  The Court in another 5-4 ruling, but with an odd mixture of votes, decided that the plaintiffs in the Prop 8 case didn't have standing.  Since the State of California chose not to defend the law, which was struck down by a lower court, SCOTUS ruled that private citizens can't take up the case.  Thus, it would seem that the lower court ruling stands, and thus same-gender marriages can resume in California.  By taking this route the Court didn't have to rule on the merits of the case.  Had it taken up the case and decided that the state ban on gay marriage was unconstitutional, it could have impacted the remaining thirty-seven states that have bans.

So, where does this leave us?  That's a good question.  There are legal answers, especially at the state level that need to be figured out, and I'll need to leave the answers to those who are trained in the law to interpret.   The key point that I want to lift up is one of the call to justice and equal protections under the law.

Some are going to raise objections on the basis of religious freedom, but here's the point that needs to be made no religious institution is required to perform any marriage they don't desire to perform.  Now, if I work, for the local county clerk my religious freedom doesn't extend to deciding who I'm going to providing a marriage licence.  No religious institution will have to ordain gay clergy.  So, let's leave aside that debate.

I want to ask the question of equal protection under the law.  DOMA was struck down on the basis of its conflict with the Fifth Amendment, which states that life, liberty, or property can be deprived without due process.  With Justice Anthony Kennedy writing for the majority, the Court decided in the United States v. Windsor, that DOMA stands in conflict with this Constitutional right.  What is interesting is the interpretation of the decision, especially the final paragraphs, which I'd like to share here:

What has been explained to this point should more than suffice to establish that the principal purpose and the necessary effect of this law are to demean those persons who are in a lawful same-sex marriage. This requires the Court to hold, as it now does, that DOMA is unconstitutional as a deprivation of the liberty of the person protected by the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution. 
The liberty protected by the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause contains within it the prohibition against denying to any person the equal protection of the laws. See Bolling, 347 U. S., at 499–500; Adarand Constructors, Inc. v. Peña, 515 U. S. 200, 217–218 (1995). While the Fifth Amendment itself withdraws from Government the power to degrade or demean in the way this law does, the equal protection guarantee of the Fourteenth Amendment makes that Fifth Amendment right all the more specific and all the better understood and preserved. 

The class to which DOMA directs its restrictions and restraints are those persons who are joined in same-sex marriages made lawful by the State. DOMA singles out class of persons deemed by a State entitled to recognition and protection to enhance their own liberty. It imposes a disability on the class by refusing to acknowledge a status the State finds to be dignified and proper. DOMA instructs all federal officials, and indeed all persons with whom same-sex couples interact, including their own children, that their marriage is less worthy than the marriages of others. The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity. By seeking to displace this protection and treating those persons as living in marriages less respected than others,the federal statute is in violation of the Fifth Amendment. This opinion and its holding are confined to those lawful marriages. 
The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit is affirmed.
It is so ordered

To read the full ruling, you can look below.  But, note these paragraphs, especially the sentences in bold.  The message of DOMA is quite simple -- it suggests that from the perspective of the Federal Government that the marriages of same-sex couples is "less worthy than the marriages of others."  That is, these are second class marriages.  They go on to state that the only purpose of DOMA is to disparage and injure persons in these marriages enacted in about thirteen states (and counting).  Thus, this Federal Statute is in violation of the 5th Amendment, and therefore invalid.  

The ruling in Prop 8 essentially allows a lower court ruling overturning that proposition to stand, making gay marriage legal once again in the nation's largest state (by population).  Now, about a quarter of the population of the United States lives in states where gay marriage is legal.

The rest of us need to start to figure out what this means.  That includes the church.  If declared legal, will the churches step forward or stand back?  Some will do one, others the second.  I know where I stand -- and welcome the opportunity to do some re-wording of the marriage ceremony.

Let justice roll-- as marriage equality moves forward!

United States v. Windsor

Things Have Changed? Race and Voting Rights in America

The rationale for the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was that there was overt suppression of voting rights for non-whites in certain regions of the country, especially in the South, where Jim Crow laws had reigned.  The argument made by the Chief Justice, John Roberts, for overturning a key provision of the Voting Rights Act was that things had changed.  Now, it could be that Congress could come up with a new formula, but the chance of that happening is about as great as me becoming Pope.  At least in the current climate not much chance of that happening.  Now, last night as Brett and I were watching the Daily Show with substitute anchor John Oliver, I heard what I think is one of the wittiest riposte's to the Court's decision.

Take a watch if you dare --

So, what do you think? Have things changed so much in America that race/ethnicity is no longer of any concern? Now that we've elected a Black President do we live in a post-racial country? What do you think!?

Note:  We're on SCOTUS watch today, so more to come on the next batch of decisions!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

What's Next for Voting Rights in America?

In one of the most anticipated Supreme Court rulings, the SCOTUS nullified Section 4B of the Voting Rights Act.  They left intact Section 5, which requires certain states/counties to get pre-clearance from the Justice Department before making changes to their voting laws.  At issue is the formula used to determine the jurisdictions needing pre-clearance.  It was argued by the plaintiffs that Southern states, which were the worst offenders in earlier decades are being unfairly targeted.  

As I read the reports it appears that Congress could redo the formula based on recent voting patterns.  That would be fine, if it weren't for the fact that it will be almost impossible to get Congress to enact the changed formula.  Thus, there is a pre-clearance requirement, but no criteria upon which to rule.  Therefore, Section 5 is essentially muted.

Now, what does this mean for the future of voting rights in America?  The majority rulings appeals to the fact that things have gotten better over the past four decades -- largely due to the Voting Rights Act.  But Chief Justice John Roberts seems to believe that things have gotten to the point that in the South there's little reason to keep the requirements in place for the affected jurisdictions.  Onlly time will tell.  

In the most recent elections we saw attempts being made to hinder voiting, especially among the poor and the marginalizeed.  Some of these provisions have been struck down, but will the Justice Department have the tools now to go after those who seek to limit voting opportunities?  

With other supporters of broadening Civil Rights, I'm disappointed in the ruling.  Therefore, I want to encourage Congress to do the right thing and act in such a way that the law can be brought into compliance with what the Ruling would seem to allow.

If we are to be a true democracy, we need to broaden access the polls not limit them.  We've come too far to go backward. 

Evangelical Ministry to Gays and Lesbians Admits It Caused Harm -- Sightings (Martin Marty)

On the eve of what could be a monumental set of Supreme Court rulings on marriage equality, one of the leading "ex-gay ministries," shut down.  In doing so Exodus International President Alan Chambers admitted it had caused great harm to those who are homosexual.  It was no half-hearted apology.  It was a full-fledged  repentance (to use religious terminology).  In this piece Martin Marty again brings his keen ability to catch the essence  of the issue and share the resources to further the conversation.  There is resistance to this trend, but the pathway to marriage equality seems to be by widening and lengthening.  So, the question is -- how will the church respond?


Evangelical Ministry to Gays and Lesbians Admits It Caused Harm
by Martin E. Marty
Monday | June 24 2013
Notice the tenses in Wikipedia’s entry on “Exodus International” posted only a day or two after events necessitated a change from the word “is” to “was”. Quote: “Exodus International was a non-profit interdenominational ex-gay Christian organization that sought to help people who wished to limit their homosexual desires. . . Exodus International formerly asserted . . . [it] was an umbrella organization which grew to include. . . over 150 ministries in 17 other countries.” Etc.
One does not expect instant revisions of encyclopedias, whether of the on-line or other-line sorts. Give the religious world a week or two before anything about theology draws notice from a few. But anything to do with “Sex,” not “God,” is the splitting agent of denominations. Hundreds of congregations in numerous church bodies have broken away since words like “same-sex” came to prime time in church and world.

We can’t fault the media for giving so much attention to last week’s news about the “Closing Shop” sign posted by Alan Chambers, president of Exodus International. Quite remarkable is his avoidance of the pop-penitence so often practiced today. Not content with “if we offended or hurt anyone,” or “we made a mistake,” he went on to speak for the organization as he apologized for the pain, hurt, and all that went with the Exodus approach. He acknowledged that Exodus-type policies and strategies could lead to suicide and to church, family, and friends turning away. That’s quite serious.

Chambers, married to a woman and a father of two adopted children, acknowledged that not all impulses connected with his homosexual make-up had disappeared, but he understood them and encountered them with new understanding.

Since the simple declaration that homosexual activity is a sin used to be the first and last word, for Christians who made it basic to their understanding of faith, a declaration like Chambers’ is the latest shakeup in the ranks of the formerly completely self-assured evangelical leaders.

Not all evangelicals, of course, think this week’s news settles much. The Southern Baptist Convention’s new “ethics” man, Russell Moore was ready: “I think it’s easy to overblow this story into a parable of evangelical shift;” “it’s only the end of a ministry that had been confused for some time about its own views.” Chambers had said “For some time we’ve been imprisoned in a world view that’s neither honoring toward our fellow human beings, nor biblical.”

Below, we provide links to an intelligent but not-unfiery exchange between two staunch evangelicals who argue about reactions to the five or six references in the bible that are negative toward homosexuality.

Columnist and blogger Peter Wehner, attacked by Kevin DeYoung, pastor of the University Reformed Church in East Lansing, responds in complex ways that we cannot condense here. Wehner quotes New Testament scholar Richard B. Hays, and Gospel Coalition founder Timothy J. Keller, both of whom make efforts to provide a broader context for dealing with biblical texts without down-playing the seriousness with which the texts are to be taken.

Wehner himself points to the standard evangelical compromise or by-passing of biblical anti-divorce texts, which affect millions, but holds firm to his insistence that the five or six negative biblical references cover everything that needs to be said on homosexuality.

Rest assured: more will be said.


“Exodus International.” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Accessed June 23, 2013.

Chambers, Alan. “A Changing World – Letter from Alan Chambers, May 2013.”, May 21, 2013. Accessed June 23, 2013.

Do, Anh, Kate Mather, and Joe Mozingo. “Shifting tide was ministry’s doom.” Los Angeles Times, June 21, 2013.

Wehner, Peter. “An Evangelical Christian Looks at Homosexuality.”, June 11, 2013. Accessed June 23, 2013.

DeYoung, Kevin. “Common Fault Lines in Maintaining an Evangelical Approach to Homosexuality.”, June 14, 2013. Accessed June 23, 2013.

Wehner, Peter. “Jesus, Homosexuals, and the Grace of God: A Response to Kevin DeYoung.”, June 20, 2013. Accessed June 23, 2013.

Author, Martin E. Marty, is the Fairfax M. Cone Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of the History of Modern Christianity at the University of Chicago Divinity School. His biography, publications, and contact information can be found at

Editor, Myriam Renaud, is a Ph.D. Candidate in Theology at the University of Chicago Divinity School.  




Monday, June 24, 2013

Worshiping With Charles Darwin -- Coming Soon

Christians can accept evolution without dumping God. Worshiping with Charles Darwin: Sermons and Essays Touching on Matters of Faith and Science, shows why and how we can logically and religiously embrace both. Dr. Robert D. Cornwall uses mind and heart, empirical evidence and Scripture to cogently guide pastors, theologians, lay leaders, and congregants through the troubling waters of one of the most controversial topics plaguing Christianity today.
When this dreaded topic is broached, emotions often run high and Christian charity is frequently absent. Bob Cornwall explores with courage and insight, here and in the pulpit, as pastor of Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Troy, Michigan. He takes on the evolution/faith quandary openly and regularly through his sermons, his commemoration of Evolution Sunday (on the Sunday nearest Charles Darwin’s February birthday), and his columns in the local newspaper, The Troy Patch.
Worshiping with Charles Darwin will help you meaningfully consider related issues. Sample sermons, liturgical aids, and tips for engaging community discussion provide practical assistance.
Among Cornwall’s many books--Ultimate Allegiance: The Subversive Nature of the Lord's Prayer asks us to give our primary allegiance to Jesus and to his kingdom;Faith in the Public Square urges us to make our faith a real civic force--while remaining neighborly and Christ-like; Unfettered Spirit: Spiritual Gifts for the New Great Awakening implores Christians of all traditions to be led by the Spirit toward God-sized goals.
Now he calls on us to bridge the gap between science and faith. Failure to do so could threaten the future of Christianity.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Clothed With Christ -- A Sermon for Pentecost 5C

Galatians 3:23-29

“Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.”  Thus, saith Mark Twain (or at least the online quote pages say so).   What we wear does say something about us.  If you wear a suit and tie to work that suggests one thing, while overalls something else.  Shorts and a T-shirt are  something else still.  Some members of the clergy wear a collar, which suggests that they are working for God.  Some of us go incognito and don’t wear anything special. As women have entered the workforce and political life, they have wrestled with what to wear.  Remember how Hillary Clinton’s pant suits became the talk of the country during the 2008 primary season.  I think she called herself “Have Pant-Suit will travel.”  Wearing a dress might suggest that she was running for First Lady rather than President, so she chose the Pant-Suit.  Yes, clothes can speak volumes about who we are, where we come from, our economic status, and what we do with our lives.  

Growing up I came to know something of the difference that clothing can make.  I was reminded of this reality listening to a recent sermon by Alex McCauslin.  Alex was sharing a story about wearing Sears clothes while her friends wore more upscale clothing.  I’m not sure if J. C. Penney is the equivalent of Sears, or a step below, but when my friends were wearing Levis and Converse All Stars, I was wearing J. C. Penney from head to toe. 

But Paul tells us not to worry about whether we’re wearing Saks 5th Avenue or Sears.  Instead of worrying about clothing labels, he tells us to clothe ourselves with Christ.   That is, when we are baptized we take on a new identity – that of Christ who lives in us and through us by the Spirit.  Not only that, but when we put on this new uniform, everything that separates us from one another disappears.

When we exchange our old clothing for Christ, there is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female.  Instead, we’re all one in Christ.  Of course, Paul is thinking in eschatological terms.  He’s thinking about the coming reign of God, which means that those distinctions still exist in our society.  The question is – how do these distinctions reflect Christ’s presence in our lives?  If we’re one in Christ and the distinctions we create in society no longer reign, then how do we live now, before the reign of God comes in its fulness?  

In reflecting on this passage of Scripture I thought about all of the walls and barriers that exist in our world.  This past week President Obama visited the site of the Berlin Wall, which fell nearly a quarter of a century ago.  This week the Senate worked on an immigration bill that could legalize millions of people living in the country without proper documents, but at the same time building a bigger wall between our country and Mexico.  And next week, the Supreme Court will decide a number of important cases, including one that deals directly with gay marriage.  There are walls that separate us from one another, but what does being in Christ have to do with them?

This past week I’ve had the opportunity to think about walls that divide – some physical, some legal, and some traditional.  Over the past week I’ve taken several trips across Eight Mile Road.  Everyone in this area probably knows what that means.  Crossing the border from the suburbs into Detroit, or from Detroit into the Suburbs has long had a certain meaning.  North of that road line lies affluence, and below it lies crime and poverty.  One side of the line is predominantly white and below it is predominantly African American.  Yesterday there was a march down Woodward Avenue to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Martin Luther King’s Detroit march and speech, in which he previewed his famed “I Have a Dream” speech.  Back then Detroit had around 1.6 million people, 29% of whom were African American.  Today, with the population down to 700,000, the percentage stands at 84%, the largest by far of any major U.S. city.  As we know, a significant portion of that population loss in Detroit moved north across Eight Mile into the suburbs.  

Fifty years after that speech heralding a new day for Detroit and America, there is still much suspicion of the other on both sides of the line.  So, how do we build bridges?   

  Motown Mission and Gospel in Action Detroit, in partnership with Rippling Hope Ministries, are important efforts that seek to tear down walls and build bridges between communities.  Most of the volunteers for these mission efforts are white, and most of the people they serve will be black.  The question is – in the course of the week, will we come to see each other as equals or does one group go into the city with paternalistic understandings.  Do we go as partners or as “saviors?”    

As we put on Christ, we are called to reflect God’s love for the world and God’s passion for justice.  Where injustice is found, we hear the call to join with God in ending that injustice.  Where walls exist, we hear the call to tear them down.  And where there are divides -- we are called to build bridges.  

On Wednesday Padma Kuppa and I led a conversation about building interfaith bridges.  I shared a word from 2 Corinthians 5 about being ministers of reconciliation.  That is our calling, according to Paul.  In Christ we are ambassadors of reconciliation, bringing the message that in Christ those old divisions no longer exist.   

In Galatians 3 Paul lays out three three pairs of relationships in which inequality and division exist.  In our day these three pairs don’t sound all that radical, but in his day, when people lived an incredibly stratified society, these were revolutionary words.   In that time and place women had no rights.  In many ways they were the property of their fathers or their husbands.  Of course, even Paul doesn’t seem to know exactly what to make of all this, because he tells the women in Corinth to keep quiet until they get home and ask their husbands to explain the message of the day.  I don’t think that piece of advice would go over very well here, though there are still churches that teach women to submit to their fathers and their husbands.  In fact, one famous TV evangelist just told his audience that husbands have permission from God to spank disobedient wives.  

Then there’s the matter of slavery, which should need no explanation, though slavery really hasn’t disappeared as of yet. 

And as far as the difference between Jew and Greek, we still struggle with ethnic identity.  Both Jew and Greek looked at the other with disdain.  To the Greeks, Jews were Barbarians, and to the Jews, Greeks were infidels.  But according to Paul none of this matters in Christ.  These ethnic distinctions no longer determine one’s value.  As that old children’s song puts it:

Jesus loves the little children
All the children of the world;
Red & yellow, black, brown & white,
They are precious in His sight;
Jesus loves the little children of the world.

I’ve gained a deeper insight to what all this means since getting involved with Motown Mission and Gospel in Action Detroit.  Each year as this effort unfolds, I’m challenged to join in building relationships with people so that we can overcome stereotypes and suspicions.  I appreciate the great lengths that Carl Zerwick goes to in making sure that the work crews don’t treat the people of the neighborhood in a paternalistic way. I’ve been amazed to see how this work is transforming lives.  I’m grateful to this congregation for supporting this growing ministry that builds a bridge between the city we once inhabited and the suburbs where this congregation currently resides.  

As we put on Christ, and begin to work in partnership with God in serving one another, we claim our inheritance as descendants of  Abraham and Sarah.  Yes, in Christ, we become joint heirs with Abraham’s children, in the covenant promise, which states that through the children of Abraham and Sarah, the nations, the peoples, of the world, will be blessed (Genesis 12).  May this blessing be upon us all!  Amen

Preached by:
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall, Pastor
Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Troy, Michigan
June 23, 2013
5th Sunday after Pentecost